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AIDSWatch 2020: United Together in a World with COVID-19

This blog post was written by Health Law and Policy Clinic advanced clinical student Nina Roesner ‘21.

AIDS Watch

Image source: AIDS United, https://twitter.com/AIDS_United/status/1242904087101722624

On March 30th, I was one of nearly 900 participants in AIDSWatch 2020. As the largest constituent-based national HIV advocacy event, AIDSWatch has brought together people living with HIV and their allies for nearly three decades. This year, however, marked a first in AIDSWatch history as the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic forced AIDSWatch to move online. Rather than convening in Washington, D.C., AIDSWatch participants all over the country logged into Zoom for a day filled with education, advocacy, and community.

A recurring theme throughout the day was the ever-present strength of the HIV community—a strength that has been built and fostered at AIDSWatch over several years. Part of what makes this connection robust is the active effort to connect across generations, races, gender identities, and more. In his opening remarks, Jesse Milan Jr., President and CEO of AIDS United, spoke about expertise within the HIV community in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, emphasizing not only the experience of fighting a viral pandemic, but also the experience of building solidarity and lifting up the voices of the most vulnerable.

After the morning plenary and advocacy orientation, I attended a session on HIV and Aging. This session focused on long-term survivors and seniors living with HIV. I was struck by the generosity of the speakers, who talked about their experiences with remarkable candor. Personal stories of mental illness, comorbid conditions, stigma, economic instability, and personal loss illustrated the dynamic and intersectional nature of the challenges they faced as people aging with HIV. The stories underscored the need for equally dynamic and intersectional solutions. As the discussion shifted to strategies to advocate for such policies, someone raised the point that there has not been a single congressional hearing focused on long-term survivors or seniors living with HIV. This is just one example of how entire communities can be overlooked by policymakers.

Nonetheless, the manifest determination of individuals living with HIV and their allies throughout the day left me with a sense of optimism. The backdrop of political division and global pandemic underscores the urgency of these issues and the need for advocates to continue amplifying the voices, experiences, and needs of people impacted by HIV in pursuit of justice for all and in pursuit of an end to the HIV epidemic in the United States.

To learn more about the policy priorities of AIDSWatch 2020, visit https://bit.ly/AIDSWatchBriefs.

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